I feel like I managed to dodge a small bullet today. I was successful in bagging my 10th ’14er’, Mount Democrat at 14,148′, but it didn’t come easy. While this mountain is probably a 2 on a difficulty scale of 1-to-10, the weather conditions were the wildcard.
The morning started out uneventful. I had to park a couple of miles shy of the Kite Lake trailhead in order to obey the 3,000′ rule. It had been spitting drops of rain on-and-off before the sunrise. As I walked up the gentle ascent of the road, I’d say the temperature was in the mid-40s. There were many cars at the trailhead by the time I arrived.
After Kite Lake is when the real work begins in this climb. You have about 2,200′ of elevation gain compressed in the space of 2 miles. The trail heads straight north across a few creeks and a large meadow. I was quite surprised to see Mount Democrat and the surrounding mountains in the Mosquito Range dusted with snow — this is August! The clearly defined trail then starts to ascend quickly, switching back and forth up to the saddle.
Once at the saddle, the temperature had dropped markedly. I could see storm clouds building to the south. Taking a sharp left turn, I began the heading up the east slope of the mountain. The trail was not as defined and consisted of hard-packed snow and glare ice. If I had brought along my Kahtoola Microspikes, then this would have presented no challenge whatsoever. However, in my La Sportiva trail runner shoes, the footing was tenuous, if not treacherous. I tried, when possible, to walk on the talus alongside the trail. Had the trail been any more exposed, I would not have gone on.
Finally, I crested the ridgeline and could see the final push to the summit, about 1/4 mile in the distance. By now, the wind had picked up and it was starting to lightly snow in earnest. I made it up to the summit, snapped a few pictures, choked down a granola bar chased with a 5-Hour Energy Shot, and got the hell out of there.
Coming down was balancing act of being careful not to take a fall on the snow and ice versus my desire to beat the inclement weather. I lost elevation quickly and breathed a sigh of relief when I made it out onto the saddle. From here, it was smooth sailing down to Kite Lake. Yet, the snow turned to rain … a steady, freezing rain. I stopped to put on my Patagonia shell and I put a shell over my pack. Looking back up at the summit of Mount Democrat, it was completely shrouded in clouds. Other hikers, discouraged and turned back by the weather, were milling about at the trailhead. The last 2 miles to my Jeep were done essentially at a trot through the cold rain.
As I write this, it is sunny and 84 in Fort Collins. Hard to believe the extreme difference. The moral of the story is that these are the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. They obey no strict guidelines for weather and seasons and do not always tolerate lack of preparation. Mount Democrat kindly gave me a summit today and I humbly accepted.